Friday, November 22, 2013


I’m like Jack Reacher.

Jack Reacher is a former Major in the United States Army Military Police Corps. , the 110th Special Investigations Unit, formed to handle exceptionally tough cases, especially those involving members of the US Army Special Forces.

Reacher received many military awards during his career, including the Silver Star, the Defence Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier's Medal, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

Reacher is a drifter. He wanders throughout the US. He usually travels by hitchhiking or bus. The only possessions he carries are money, a foldable toothbrush and, after 9/11, an expired passport and an ATM debit card.

Reacher has the uncanny ability to know what time it is, at any time of the day, without referring to a clock. He often uses his internal clock as an alarm, enabling him to wake up at any time he chooses. He sometimes uses his "human metronome" ability to countdown and calculate during time-related situations.

Reacher has a fascination with mathematics.

Reacher is highly skilled at fighting, enhanced by in-depth technical and military knowledge. He has experience and skills from various martial arts, although he is not an expert in any particular style. He mentally plans his fights using physics in a scientific calculating method. He knows how to break a person's neck with one hand and kill someone with a single punch to the head or chest. Reacher places greater importance on winning than on how he will win.

Reacher wears his clothes for 2–3 days before dumping them, usually purchasing new clothing cheaply from discount stores.

Reacher is 6'5" tall with a 50-inch chest, and weighs between 220 and 250 pounds. He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. He has very little body fat, and his muscular physique is completely natural. He is exceptionally strong, has a high stamina, but is not a good runner.


I don’t wear a watch and can usually guess what time it is to the nearest 5 or 10 minutes, any time of the day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Humbert drove over the hill marvelling at the amount of gorse still adorning the slopes. "Chris' homemade pizza must have been good for it" he mused.
He drove through the suburbs of Moera and Petone thinking that they were much better when Ford, Todd Motors and Gear Meat co still operated there. He missed the smell of hot oil and blood.

Porirua hadn't changed much. The suburban crescents merged seamlessly into the crappy semi-industrial estates only separated by scrappy 'parks' liberally covered in dog shit. "Fuck" he thought "give me Nuova Lazio any day". He cruised around looking for Bella Vista Crescent. There wasn't a gps in the cheap courier van but Humbert knew the way city planners thought. Bella Vista - 'Beautiful View'. He looked around and up at the hills. There it was. The "beautiful view". Kenepuru Hospital and before that Porirua Lunatic Asylum where all the loonies were incarcerated. In today's enlightened times it was no longer known as this and the loonies were no longer incarcerated (they were living on the streets instead). Typical of the city planners. Bastards.
 He took a reference sighting off the hospital and back down to the snaking crescents. There it was Bella Vista Crescent with used tyre shops, garages, panel beaters, scrap metal merchants and ... a low corrugated iron shed set back from the road. There was a small sign at the roadside which said "GIW LTD" nothing more.

Humbert parked the van on the street. He knew that it was unlikely to be there or if it was to still have its wheels on when he got back to it but that wasn't his most immediate problem. GIW was.
He checked his internal clock. 9.30 hours. No, that was Shanghai. 13.30 hours. Fifty five and a half hours to go.

The approach to the shed was via a poorly maintained driveway. Rain and heavy vehicles had ground out the shoddy repair work  done with cement and bitumen. Bastards" Humbert thought "Just like the Nuova Lazio Mall car park.". Humbert stepped around the deepest puddles and quietly made his way to a side door. He stopped and listened. What was that? He had heard a soft ticking. He listened again. Yes, there it was - the sound of a large engine cooling. A 3.5 litre Ti-VCT V6. "Might come in handy" he thought as he carefully opened the door and stepped inside.

The shed was larger inside than it seemed from outside. It was set up like a warehouse but without much planning. There were cartons and bottles everywhere set out chaotically. At one end was a small industrial labelling and bottling line. The equipment looked to be about 40 years old. There was a man tinkering with part of it. He was replacing what looked like a star wheel.
"Yo" called Humbert.
The man dropped a spanner which rang out on the concrete floor.
"Who the fuck are you" the man said belligerently. Belligerence. Humbert liked belligerence.
"25 Pinetree Falling Grove ring a bell with you?" Humbert asked. He watched the man closely, saw his eyes slide to the right and downwards as he answered "No. Should it?"
"What's all this " asked Humbert, kicking and empty brown carton out of the way. He noticed the wording stencilled on the side in black ink "RBW Chardonnay 2009".
"Mind your own fuck..." the words he uttered were cut short as Humbert grabbed him by the throat with his right hand. The hand kept free for action and emergencies. His left hand held a brown paper bag containing toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor and now 4 pairs of underpants.
"Don't lie to me mister I know what you're up to." said Humbert "remember the little issue of the Hawkes Bay Syrah that had only ever seen Hawkes Bay when the bottles were delivered from Waipara?"

The man looked again at Humbert, memory awakening and he tried to get away but Humbert's grip, strengthened by a lifetime of opening bottles and holding glasses didn't lessen.
" Maybe we can work something out" he gasped "I could use a partner. How about we go 60:40?"

He'd chosen the wrong man to try and bribe. Humbert let him go and as he fell to the floor kneed him in the goolies. "That's for the Syrah" he said "and this is for the Chardonnay".

Humbert grabbed the man by the collar and hauled him up and in one fluid motion threw him across the conveyer that led to the automatic corking machine. He could see what the man had been tinkering with. The safety cage was faulty and the guard had been removed. Humbert punched the start button with his right palm and the machine whirred into life and the conveyer began to move.
The man stirred and looked about wildly but couldn't move as Humbert pinned him down with a large forearm. As his head lined up below the automatic corker Humbert looked into his eyes and said "think yourself lucky punk that this isn't a screwcap machine" as the corks, propelled by a CO2 gun fired down into the man's mouth. As the man's shoulders jammed the safety gate the conveyer stopped but the machine kept working, firing cork after cork until the man was silent.
"Job done" said Humbert as he slapped the stop button on the machine.

Humbert looked about the shed. There were hundreds of cartons of the RBW wine and as many more of the same wine relabelled as Te Awanga Chardonnay. There were also hundreds of cases of other non identifiable wines along with boxes of labels. He sorted through these noticing labels for well known and well respected Hawkes Bay Chardonnays from the 2012 vintage. "I guess he was going to relabel the RBW wine with these" he thought.

Behind a pallet of flattened cartons he noticed 5 sealed cases of wine. Morton Estate Coniglio 2010. Wow! This was serious wine, one of the best and at least $80 a bottle. Humbert wondered why this was here. He grabbed a bottle. Cork, not screwcap. "Never mind" he thought and grabbed a large knife from the tool bench. He swung it at the neck of the bottle knocking the top off in a clean 'sabrage' stroke. Pouring some out to clean away any glass splinters he then took a swig. Then another. "Creamy, lovely tropical fruit. good oak balance - lovely" he said to himself and took another big mouthful.
"This is the real McCoy, old Richard will love this" he thought and loaded the five cases (less one bottle ) into the Ford Explorer that was parked by the loading bay. As he was doing this his boot struck a bottle that was on the floor. It went spinning out into the warehouse. Humbert watched it and as it came to a stop he saw what it was. Lemonade. Schweppes lemonade. A memory stirred. Northland 1976. A vertical tasting of Chateau Margaux with vintages from 1966 through to 1974. Chateau Margaux one of the world's greatest wines and now costing up to $1000 a bottle.

The tasting was ruined though because someone poured lemonade into the wines. Schweppes lemonade. Richard. Bastard.

 Humbert looked at the wine in the Explorer. He then looked back at the wines on the warehouse floor and came to a decision. He selected 5 dozen of the RBW cleanskins and took out the corks. He poured about 50 mls out of each one and topped up with lemonade from a crateful of bottles he found. Shoving aside the guy with a mouth full of corks he loaded up the corking machine with 60 corks from a box labelled "2012 Hawkes Bay"  and sent the cleanskin bottles through to be re-corked. He next rummaged through boxes and found some newly printed labels and capsules. "Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2012" Perfect. And about $40 a bottle. He sent the re-corked bottles through. As they collected at the end of the conveyer he packed them into some 'Te Mata' cartons he had found and loaded them into the Explorer.

Humbert raised the roller door and drove out of the shed. He left the door open and splashed his way down the drive. The courier van was gone and he knew that the shed would soon be picked clean like bones in the desert. He drove in to Porirua town centre and found a local and international courier company.
Using the credit cards that he'd taken from the guy in the shed he processed the paperwork for two shipments. One of 59 bottles addressed to Trixie at a San Francisco address. He'd pick these up later.
The other 60 bottles he addressed to 25 Falling Pinetree Grove, Nuova Lazio. The old guy would like it.

Humbert drove to the airport, leaving the Ford Explorer in the long-term carpark. He used his open ticket for the next flight to LAX which was about 5 hours later. Stretching out in the departure lounge he thought about the last couple of days and was happy. Problem fixed. Job done.

It was 7pm - 1900 hours. Forty eight and a half hours under the deadline. He smiled to himself. He hated those last minute deadline scenarios.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Humbert woke early the next morning. "Five am" he thought "I'd better wake the others."
As he made his way to the kitchen he almost stumbled over a hunched shape at the computer in the study next to where he had been sleeping. It was Richard and he seemed to be talking to himself.
"But, Angry Jesus, Bill said not to buy that supermarket rubbish" said Richard.
"C'mon, what can it hurt. Just a few bottles to keep you going. You know you like it" said Richard again.
"The the Humbert guy the the won't the the like it though" said Richard yet again in another voice.
Humbert was worried. Very worried.
Sixty six hours to go and Richard might not make it.

Putting a cheery face on he said "Morning big guy. We better get on to business. Any chance of a cup of tea? Irish breakfast with soy milk for me"
Richard seemed to shake himself out of reverie and excused himself to go the the bathroom.
A half an hour later he joined Shelley and Humbert at the breakfast table. He noticed a three quater full bottle of Chardonnay by the back door and grabbed it and took a big swig wondering why Humbert tried to stop him. "Ah. Good. Hair of the dog" he said, smacking his lips " I wonder why we didn't finish that last night".
"We did" said Humbert.

After the breakfast dishes had been cleared and Richard had been cajoled into cleaning his teeth the three of them reviewed the situation.
The wine had been made by RBW and sold as cleanskins to GIW who had relabelled as a different wine. This must have been done at a small processing place, address unknown.
"We need to track down the courier driver. Where's that delivery docket Rich?" Said Humbert.
Richard handed over the docket and Humbert found a contact number which he rang.
"Hello. Humbert here. I need the address from a pick-up and delivery you made two days ago. It was delivered to Falling Pine Tree Grove, Nuova Lazio. I need to know  the originating address. The docket number is ...."
"Listen Mac.." Said the courier driver.
"Humbert" said Humbert.
"Listen Humbert" said the driver "I don't give out that sort of information so scram".
Humbert thought for a moment after the connection was closed. Belligerent. Humbert liked belligerent. This was going to be good. "Shelley" he said "call that driver again on your phone. Say that you have a very important pick up and that you'll pay handsomely for it. Tell him it's urgent."

After Shelley had made the call they waited. Humbert prepared by finding some packing tape, an old zip up bag with some kind of large musical instrument in it which he tossed in a corner and put these by the back door by the now half-full bottle. They were ready. When the courier driver came to the door Shelley invited him in. He did so warily, eying Richard who was still in his baggy pyjamas but didn't notice Humbert who came behind him, quickly bound his arms with packing tape and sat him at the table.
"Hi buddy. Remember me? You might know me as Mac" said Humbert. He poured a glass from the bottle that had been by the door which by this time they all had declared it 'Robert's Brew'. Forcing it down the driver's throat he asked again for the address of  GIW. The driver, at first shaking his head quickly came up with the information when Humbert poured another glass. Bella Vista Crescent, Porirua.  That was a camel and a packed lunch away. Humbert would need a vehicle. A vehicle that wouldn't arouse suspicion. The courier van.

After taping the driver's mouth and securely zipping him into the big bag, Humbert prepared to leave.
"I'll be of now" he said "don't ' worry, it'll soon be sorted. I'll call you when it's done. Give me six hours and then feed these to the driver" he said, handing over some tablets "these will erase his memory and make him feel good at the same time. Drop him off at the Nuova Lazio mall. Oh, give him a can of spray paint to give him something to do. It'll also keep those mall cops on their toes".

With that Humbert was off in the courier van.


 Fifty seven hours to go.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The 9am San Francisco direct to Wellington flight was fortuitous. Humbert easily made it to SFO 90 minutes before take-off. Trixie hadn’t been a problem. She was pregnant. She wasn’t much of a waitress. But, she was in the wine business. She understood. Peeling off 50’s from a roll of notes he paid for his ticket, showed his battered passport and was about to make his way to the gates.

“Uh, Mr Humbert?” asked the Air New Zealand attendant at the counter.

“Yeah” said Humbert “just call me Humbert “

“OK Humbert. We can give you a free upgrade to business class if you want?

“Thanks, I’ll take it” said Humbert, pocketing the ticket and leaving with a wink to the attractive 30-something attendant. He wasn’t fussed whether he had  the more comfortable seat in the class two above the ‘steerage’ ticket he’d bought or not. He didn’t sleep on planes anyway, preferring to read (Late nineteenth century Scandinavian playwrights was his current reading, especially those that wrote about women’s issues. He was reading Ibsen’s A Doll’s House which is critical attitude toward 19th century marriage norms).

But business class would provide a superior offering of wine with his meals.

The flight was uneventful and at this early time of the morning there were no drunken businessmen making asses of themselves. He drank a glass of Kim Crawford Small Parcels Gisborne Chardonnay 2012 with his starter and a glass of Carrick 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir with his main. The food choices tasted the same – plastic and with that peculiar microwave character. The wines were good. Humbert knew that if tasted on ground they would be better. High altitude in a pressurised atmosphere distorted the flavour characteristics of wine. He wondered about that.

The plane landed at 6pm the day after he’d started. The flight was just on fourteen hours and there was a 19 hour time difference. It had been 19 hours ‘real time’ since Richard had called. Seventy seven hours to go.

Wellington is a small city by world standards and in no time Humbert had taken a bus into the city, a train to the Hutt Valley and hitched his way to Nuova Lazio. It was 7.30 pm. The clock was ticking.

“Who’s there?” the at first unrecognisable and shaky voice called out as Humbert hammered on the door.

“Humbert” said Humbert.

“Wow, great come in quickly” said Richard, grabbing Humbert by the sleeve and hauling him in while at the same time, out of Shelley’s line of sight, kicking the ginger cat outside. “That was quick. Where’s your bag?”

Humbert winked and showed Richard and Shelley his small paper bag he carried in his left hand. He preferred to carry things in his left hand. This kept his right hand free in case of emergencies. “I’ve got all I need here. Toothpaste, toothbrush, razor and 5 pairs of underpants. I would normally have a wine-bottle opener but in New Zealand good wine should come in screw cap bottles”.  He noticed that Richard winced and noticed further that he hadn’t shaved for two days and had a tremor in his right hand,. His drinking hand. Humbert thought he’d arrived just in time.

 While dinner was being prepared he sprinted down the road, (refusing the offer of Richard’s car as he wasn’t a good driver) to the nearest wine shop. Again he felt that he was just in time as this guy was obviously going out of business. There was a Countdown supermarket about to open across the road. Humbert scanned the shelf in the Chardonnay section. This looked bad. There were unwooded Chardonnays ‘lightly-oaked’ Chardonnays, Australian/NZ blended Chardonnays and Marlborough Chardonnays. Disaster. When he was just about to leave he spied treasure. In the bargain bin by the counter he saw three blue capsules. On closer inspection his hopes were realised when he saw the three bottles of Pegasus Bay Riesling 2010. They were $20 each. Humbert knew this wine and that $20 was a bargain. He bought them, peeling off three $20 notes from the bundle of NZ cash he had. Humbert carried at all times small bundles of important overseas currency. He sprinted back to Falling Pine Tree Grove as dinner was laid on the table. “Here, this should carry you over for the next few days” he said handing Richard the bottles. “Riesling. Stunning Riesling. Keep away from those supermarkets.”

After the delicious Italian-inspired meal with a Nuova Lazio variation (pasta and roast potatoes) they got down to the serious business.

“Show me” said Humbert.

Richard gingerly handed over the now empty bottle of Chardonnay along with the cork. Humbert set them on the table, shoved aside a large space-wasting musical instrument in order to get better light and studied the labels front and back. You can tell a lot from a label or you should be able to. This was different. The front label described the wine inside as Te Awanga Reserve Chardonnay from the 2012 vintage. The back label described the wine as being typical Hawkes Bay Chardonnay with peaches, apricots balanced by nice oak flavours and with a pleasant leesy finish. It also described the 2012 vintage as being excellent for white wines from the region. The cork said 2009 Eiffelton with a small sheep emblem and the initials RBW. A small light of recognition went on in Humbert’s mind but he kept that quiet and asked for a new bottle. With great solemnity and with trembling hands Richard produced a bottle and opened it. He poured a glass – “Whoa, whoa “Humbert shouted “not a bloody bucketful, I just want a taste”.

“Sorry” said Richard “Old habits you know” at which Humbert expected a wry joke about his schooldays when taught by nuns, brothers and priests but nothing came. This was serious. Very serious.

Humbert peered at the wine. “”What the fuck!” he said and jumped but realised what he had seen was just the old guy looking through the glass from the other side. “Don’t do that” he said and continued with his investigation. The wine was pale, very pale with no hints of gold that you’d expect from barrel fermentation and maturation. He sniffed. And sneezed. He sniffed again. No, no brettanomyces just some over sulphuring. He tasted. Green fruit, undeveloped flavour components, low alcohol, ageing quickly. Pisswater. This was not a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay. Bastards.

“You were right to call me Rich. This is not what you paid for. We’ll sort this out” said Humbert and he asked for the courier slip, the invoice and any other documentation. Forensic accounting was old hat to Humbert. Lehman Brothers and Bearn Stearns were still fresh in his mind. His uncovering of the dirty little deals had been of great satisfaction to him and the earnings from the investigation had enabled him to travel freely, unencumbered by daily work responsibilities.

Humbert looked at the invoice first. ‘Green Isles Wines – Best On-Line Deals’ was the company name. “Mm” he thought “that sounds familiar”. He remembered some dealings a few years back with a fraudster using the company name ‘Glen Innes Wine shop – Best Internet Deals’. “GIW? Mm”.

He next looked at the cork again. Eiffelton. This was near Ashburton in South Canterbury. It was a very pretty area once known for sheep farming, more recently turned over to vegetable cropping for the big processors and most likely now being turned over to the ubiquitous dairy farming. No great reputation for wine though. Too far South. Too cold. Wrong terroir. Grabbing his iPhone 5 he set it to ‘roaming’ in New Zealand and googled RBW wines. Nothing came up at first but when he entered RBW Eiffelton he had a hit. RB was the name of a dairy contractor in Ashburton. He clicked on a ‘website’ for RB which was really just a simple directory listing and found the name and phone number. Ivan Ramsbottom. RB. RBW must have been Ramsbottom Wines.

Humbert dialled. He knew that 10pm was late to ring a farmer but this was serious. Very serious.

“Hello, Ivan here” came a sleepy voice

“Humbert. Bill Humbert” said Humbert “Sorry to bother you so late Ivan but we’ve got a problem and I do mean we”. Humbert liked this guy. He was a good reader of character and he could tell that Ivan Ramsbottom, from the three words he’d said was true blue.

“Problem? What problem? Asked Ramsbottom and Humbert filled him in on what Richard had discovered.

“ Bastards” said Ramsbottom. “I sold the remainder (nearly all of it as it hadn’t sold) of that wine, a 2009 Chardonnay as ‘cleanskins’ to GIW. I told him all about the vintage and the location and confessed that the wine wasn’t much cop and that Ive ripped out the vineyard and gone over to dairy farming. He gave me a dollar a bottle for it and said he’d move it on for a couple of bucks a bottle. Bastard still hasn’t paid me for it. What did your guy pay per bottle?

Humbert looked over to Richard and asked how much indicating the bottle on the table. Richard said “$20 dollars a bottle, marked down from $45 a bottle”.

Humbert told Ramsbottom who said again “Bastards”. He didn’t have any detail for Humbert on GIW except for a post office box number and a freight forwarding contact. Promising to help in any way he could he rung off.

“Nice chap” said Richard “Tell him that I’m happy to come down and give him a free double bass solo concert”.

Humbert looked Richard squarely in the eye and said “sorry old chap but he keeps dairy cows. They can’t be put off their milk. Besides, they are cows. You’re afraid of cows remember”.

Richard mumbled an apology and sloped off to a corner from which soon emanated low rumbling noises. Humbert prepared for bed as it would be an early start tomorrow and there were things to do. Important things. 11pm.

Seventy two hours to go.

Friday, October 25, 2013


The cell phone quietly sang. The song was Paper Doll sung by The Mills Brothers. There was a special reason for this having been chosen but that’s another story. It was an iPhone 5 and had been set at the lowest ring volume but Bill Humbert woke at the first bar. He reached over carefully and pressed the listen button trying not to wake Trixie the pregnant barmaid who was sleeping (finally) softly next to him. Well, she wasn’t that much pregnant

Humbert eased himself out of bed and moved quietly into the living room.

“Hello Big Guy” he said, having noticed the caller ID on the screen.

“Bill, Bill, thank God or any other form of omnipresent being that may or may not rule our lives and incidentally who may or may not exist given that Jasper, the planet we live on may or may not be alone in the universe as a populated planet and who knows how it all began and, and…..” blustered Richard (of RBB) having spilled out these words in a barely understood torrent.

“Slow down Rich. This is a poor time to call me you know”. Said Humbert, knowing that his old pal Richard would get the intended pun and most likely come back with a riposte of sorts but there was silence on the end of the line. Nothing. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

“Rich. Are you there? It’s 4 am here as I’m sure you know” Humbert was being kind. Richard was a music teacher. He was a very good music teacher and pretty good at grammar but simple arithmetic wasn’t one of his strengths. Humbert knew that 4am in his motel unit meant that it was 11am the next day in Nuova Lazio where Richard lived. Humbert had an internal clock that gave him a register of all times in all time zones 24 hours a day. 4am was 4pm the same day in Kiev, 9am in Asuncion, 8am the next day in Tonga….

“Bill, Bill, sorry to bother you mate but something’s happened”

Humbert felt a chill creep up his back and goose bumps came out on his arms and legs. Excusing himself from Richard for a moment he stepped back into the bedroom and pulled the quilt off the bed and wrapped himself in it. Trixie stirred and woke shivering but Humbert wasn’t too concerned. She’d buggered up his wine order after all. He went back into the living room and picked up the phone.

“Tell me” he said, knowing that it was best to keep the sentences short or the nit-picking old schoolteacher would want to correct his grammar.

“You know that Shelley and I like Chardonnay” said Richard which was an understatement. Between them they had reversed the ABC (anything but chardonnay) trend and caused grapegrowers to plant the varietal in all sorts of unlikely places in order to keep up demand.

“Yes. I’ve heard something to that effect” said Humbert while pouring himself a glass of the 2010 Batard -Montrachet Grand Cru from the bottle on the coffee table. Good Chardonnay fruit, lean structure, judicious use of wood. Temperature perfect in the early morning chill. It’d go well with a …..

“Bill. Bill. Are you there? You know that we took your advice and only look out for Hawkes Bay and Gisborne Chardonnays. We don’t go near those Marlborough and other South Island ones except for the top Nelson ones but then we can’t afford those?”

“Good man Rich, keep it up” said Humbert and for some reason the thought of going into the next room and keeping Trixie warm sprung into his mind.

“Well” said Richard, finally calming down a bit” I ordered some Hawkes Bay Chardonnay off the internet last week. It was a 2012 Te Awanga barrel fermented Reserve. I did what you advised and looked up the books . The vintage is great and the location superb for Chardonnay with good fruit but with a nice cutting edge. The barrel ferment is supposed to soften out the acids and give a nice creamy texture from lees contact and the Reserve suggests some barrel ageing, about 10 months or more which adds complexity and nice vanillin characters and….”

“Whoah. Slow down, slow down” said Humbert as he stretched himself out on the couch. The Montrachet warming him nicely as he idly imagined spooning with Trixie and….

“But it wasn’t” said Richard.

“What?” Humbert asked thinking the old guy was losing his marbles “What wasn’t?”

“The wine” blurted Richard “the bloody wine I bought wasn’t a 2012 Cape Kidnappers barrel ferment Reserve. When it arrived I grabbed a bottle and … er, I chilled down a bottle and carefully took off the capsule and pulled the cork out and ….”


“Yes, cork and I noticed that the printing on the cork said ‘2009’. I thought that strange and before pouring anoth … before I poured a glass I checked the cork again. It said ‘2009 Eiffelton’. I didn’t think that was in Hawkes Bay so looked up the school computer in the bedroom….er waited until I got to school the next day and checked out where Eiffelton was. It’s in South Canterbury!”

“Bastards” said Humbert “The dirty bastards. They’re up to their old tricks. Look, don’t open any more of those wines. Carefully put them aside with the carton and the courier ticket and wait to hear from me. I’m on my way” Humbert closed the call and looked up Safari on his iPhone, going to Google to check on the next departures from San Francisco to Wellington.
He knew that there wasn't much time. The old guy would only be able to last out four days before he'd crumble, forget all the good advice and go back to drinking those cheap supermarket 'specials'.

Ninety six hours.

 He had a job to do. Bastards.

(To be continued)

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Bill Humbert sniffed. He sneezed and sniffed again. No doubt about it. Thirty years of Special Services duty taught him the smell of spent cartridges. The SO2 was distinctive. It took him back. Kunduz, November 2001. The ground was littered with cartridge cases some still smoking. The wisps of smoke mingled with the smoke from body parts ripped from comrades who lay amidst the debris. Bastards…..

 Under the sulphur there was something else. Beirut 1983. The Marine Corps hospital. The bandages that swathed Humbert’s body gave off a cheese and plastic smell, not offensive but unnatural, antiseptic…. Brettanomyces? He gingerly sniffed the wine again and yes, there it was. Bretannomyces in unacceptable concentration. “Bastards.”

 The 2011 Oregon Pinot Noir was spoiled. This wasn’t good enough. The bottle had set him back $80 at the corner wine shop but it wasn’t the money that bothered him it was the ruined expectation of delight. Something had to be done. Should he go back and kick the shit out of the clerk who sold him the bottle? No, no point. It wasn’t his fault even though he should know the quality of the wine he sold but the poor prick was only being paid $15 an hour so probably never gets to try anything more expensive than a two buck chuck. No, something had to be done and Humbert knew where.

 “Brettannomyces” Humbert mused as he rode the Greyhound from Seattle along Route 99W to Willamette, “volatile phenols and fatty acids are the key molecules responsible for the olfactory defects in wines affected by brettanomyces, the key molecules being 4-ethyl-phenol, isovaleric acid and The ratio of the disgusting 4-ethyl phenol to the comparatively pleasant smelling 4-ethyl guaiacol varies substantially from wine to wine from as little as 3:1 to over 40:1. In the latter case the wine smells like Band-Aid. Hospitals. Bastards.”

 Humbert knew that red wines, due to barrel ageing are susceptible to brettanomyces if poor winemaking and cellar management come into play. The ‘good’ wine yeast saccharomyces normally overrides development of brettanomyces but if too much oxygen is allowed during primary fermentation (unlikely given the amount of CO2 generated) or more likely during barrel maturation then brettanomyces is stimulated. Lazy winemakers who fail to adequately top up barrels during this stage run the risk of brettannomyces developing. Worse, winemakers who syphon off amounts of wine from barrel to use for cellar tastings without topping up leave too much room in the barrel so that the aerobic conditions allow the ‘bad’ yeast to flourish. In such cases, before bottling the criminal winemakers add extra Sulphur to try and slow the process and to mask the spoilage. Spent cartridges? SO2. Bastards.

 The bus slowing pulled Humbert out of his reverie. They had passed through Oregon City and as arranged were stopping at the intersection of Routes 5 and 206. The Greyhound headed off to Woodburn. Humbert shouldered his pack and headed off by foot up the Chehalem Valley. In the early morning air there was a smell of violets and heather intermingling with wood smoke and cooking. Humbert’s belly rumbled and he remembered he hadn’t eaten since the evening before when he boarded the bus. The Tilapia slider washed down with the creamy Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay was a pleasant but distant memory. “It’ll have to wait” he thought “there’s business to be done”.

 After an hour and a half trek along a gently climbing dusty road which was bordered by sprawling vineyards Humbert saw what he was looking for. Cheetim Cellars. The large and imposing frontage of the winery announced grandeur, expense and confidence. The front door was locked. Humbert made his way around the side of the building. The grandeur, once out of sight of the visitor car park out front disappeared and he could see that the frontage was like a Hollywood film set with ramshackle, poorly maintained sheds behind. All doors were closed but Humbert gripping the corner of a piece of corrugated iron that the largest shed was made of and, with power developed from many years opening wine bottles, peeled the iron back to allow him entrance. Humbert peered about, wrinkling his nose at the various odours. Normally he loved being inside wineries. The fruity smells mingling with toasty oak and pleasant yeasty aromas usually made him hungry but here all he could small was vinegar, mustiness and….Band-Aid. There were no lights on but the many holes in the roof allowed the mid-morning sun to penetrate. The shafts of sunlight illuminated tanks, barrels and winemaking equipment. He stopped as he heard a sound. It was coming from above somewhere. He remembered that in the Takht-e-Sulamein mountain passes to triangulate a position you stood slightly side on so that direct sound and reflected sound would converge thus eliminating false echoes. He stood still. He turned, looking up and saw boots at the top of a ladder which leant against a huge wooden vat. Humbert climbed quietly. Reaching the top, just below the boots he said loudly “Humbert. Bill Humbert”. The man at the top of the ladder jumped in fright and almost lost balance. Grabbing the rungs of the ladder he dropped the bag he had been holding and as it fell past Humbert he could smell it. Spent cartridges. SO2. Bastard.

The man was worried. Humbert sincerely hoped he wouldn’t pee himself given that he was on the ladder directly below. He decided to cut to the chase, no preliminaries needed.
 “You the winemaker here?” he asked while taking a strong grip of the ladder with his left hand allowing his right hand to be free.
“Yes, what’s it to you?” answered the man who seemed to be recovering himself and was adopting a belligerent attitude, just what Humbert liked.
 “You make the 2011 Pinot Noir?” Humbert asked.
 “My best wine” smirked the winemaker as he edged himself higher up the ladder.
 “What’s this wine in the vat here” asked Humbert.
“My new creation, a fortified wine” answered the winemaker.
 “This here a butt?” asked Humbert even though he knew the answer.
 “I guess so” said the winemaker.
“Have you got a name for the wine-style yet” asked Humbert.
 “No, any suggestions” sneered the winemaker.
 “You familiar with George Plantagenet, First Duke of Clarence?” asked Humbert.
 “What about it?” said the winemaker, sounding confused.
 “Well from now on you can call this wine Malmsey” said Humbert as he grabbed the guy’s boots and lifted him up and over the edge of the vat.

Humbert climbed to the top and perched on the edge of the vat quietly watching as the winemaker floundered gasping for breath as the foul wine filled his lungs made worse by the recent sulphuring which cut
down on the available oxygen. When all was still Humbert climbed down.

 Job done.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I got a Nelson de Mille novel out of the library. It is titled Wildfire and is yet another of de Mille's wanks about his alter-ego saving the world etc.etc.
I knew what to expect but I was bored. De Mille's characters are 'smart-ass' and make 'wise-cracks' all the time. Cue boorish and pain-in-the-ass. John Corey, one of his characters drinks 'man drinks' like Budweiser and neat scotch but thinks that wine is for pansies. I guess he appeals to sales managers, long distance sales reps, van delivery drivers and shoolteachers - those who want to fantasise themselves into positions of power and rebellion.

Richard is reading all of the Lee Child's Jack Reacher books at present. Reacher is not 'smart-ass' nor is he boorish which largely is why most of his readership is women (and old male schoolteachers). There are things that Reacher does however that gets close like never changing his underpants and thinking that it is manly to drink copious amounts of strong black coffee. Oh, and not drinking wine.

Imagine Reacher or a similar type of character who is a vinophile:

Bill Humbert watched the guy walk past the window. He'd seen him twice before. First as he stepped off the Greyhound bus at Union Station. It had been one o'clock. June. Bill knew the time exactly as one o'clock, June, was the ideal time for a Prosecco aperitif. Simple. The guy was dressed like a businessman but there were some giveaway clues that suggested otherwise. The cuff of his shirt on the right arm had smear marks. These weren't ordinary smear marks as Humbert could tell. They looked like the accidental splashings from a bar. A copper-topped bar where the wiping cloth doesn't completely clear the spilled Chardonnay. Humbert remembered such a bar...
Humbert drew the glass of red wine closer to him. He looked at the colour that was highlighted by the late afternoon sun coming through the window (now not obstructed by the guy outside)and reflected on the shiny zinc table he was sitting at. Syrah. Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2004. It was good and worth the argument with the pregnant barmaid who tried to pour a pint of Guinness for him when He'd asked for it. Silly cow. He knew that it needed to sit for another 55 seconds to allow optimum breathing before he took a sip but there was that guy. The guy had been walking Eastwards which took him from Humbert's right to left. Humbert knew that the entrance door was on the right side of the windows - facing in. He had calculated that the window frontage was about 40 foot long. The guy was moving quickly. Too quickly. Humbert knew that it would take him less than 20 paces to the door and then, after looking around another 15 paces to where he was sitting. 20 seconds tops. Not enough time for the wine to breathe properly. Humbert wasn't angry, just peeved. Peevishness he thought was an old English word created in a time of gentility and manners. Certainly not appropriate for today's rudeness and brashness. He watched the reflection of the guy approaching. He could see it in the top third of the glass which contrary to expectations was highly polished. He was ready. The guy came to the table, bumping it slightly and spilling some of the Syrah on to the table. The droplets glimmered like a ruby eye set in a Balinese statue. "Good life left in it" thought Humbert " 15 years more with adequate cellaring". "Remember me?" asked the guy. Humbert looked at him thinking "Not much life left in him, certainly not 15 years". The guy said he was the barman in the winebar down by Union and that Humbert had stiffed him on the tip. Humbert remembered the Chardonnay he'd ordered. It was supposed to be a barrel fermented oak-aged Napa Valley 2011. What was given however probably only saw a barrel when it was poured at waist level by this portly barman. "here's a tip" said Humbert and drove the point of his elbow into this guy's belly. The guy crumpled and fell to the floor by the table. Humbert stood up, drained the glass (nice fruit - plums, blackberries and nice American oak) and motioned to the pregnant barmaid. "Thanks" he said and pointing to the writhing figure on the floor "He's paying. Don't expect a tip"

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Packing up the house for our relocation has brought about some great discoveries of things we had misplaced and forgotten about.
Tonight, clearing out the bottom drawers in the china cabinet I came across a photograph of Her Indoors that was taken on our visit to Remy Martin Cellars in Cognac many years ago.

In this she is savouring a particularly pleasant aged cognac- Louis XIII. HERE

I represented the brand in New Zealand at the time and we had a day visiting the manufacturing facility,  the barrel halls and Seguin Moreau cooperage. At the end of the day we were hosted in the tasting room (above).

I particularly remember the occasion not ony because it is a wonderful facility and a great brand but because of that typical French arrogance and chauvinism. When hosted at the bar we were given over to a young and pompous marketer who assumed that antipodeans knew bugger all about their fine cognacs. When he was about to go through his spiel I told hiim to line the offerings up (6 of them at different gradings) in a random order and to do so blind. When he did so in a set for her and a set for me I waited. He was expecting me to try first and had his rehearsal ready but I nodded to Her Indoors who sniffed and tasted the drinks in turn. She correctly identified VSOP, Club and XO and pushed two aside which she said she was unfamiliar with (they were blends that were only available in Europe). The last glass she held on to and savoured. She said to Mr Pompous "This is my favourite - Louis Treize".

Mr Pompous did a double take and then excused himself and disappeared out back.

 I smiled at Her Indoors and set about tasting my set of cognacs. Soon one of the big wigs we hadn't seen during the day and the resident Master of wine showed up and began to chat. Obviously the marketing guy had told them that these Nouvelle Zealandaise were serious.

We enjoyed some more hospitality, declined a lift back to Bordeaux and made our way back to the train station.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


* [Bugger in Gaelic]

We're going overseas for a couple of years and have been packing stuff away in a storage locker - you know , the things that can keep for a few years more. We've drunk, given away and sold most of the wines but there are a few old cognacs and whiskies that are worth keeping.

I wrapped them up and packaged them carefully before storing them in the long term rental locker.

Today, when taking some more packages of artwork and boxes of books I discovered that one of the stacks of boxes had collapsed. I saw quite a few boxes scattered across the floor when I opened the door. "don't be the booze" I thought as I approached and guess what - it was. I quickly checked boxes and two of them rattled. Bugger (or Cac)! On opening, the XO cognacs were OK but ..... some of the old whiskies had been broken.

McLeay Duff 'Antique'

Munro's King of Kings
Buchanan's The Royal Household

Plus an old Lord Calvert Canadian whiskey (over 40 years old) and a litre of Drambuie.

Now the Calvert was probably worth about a hundred bucks and the Drambuie about eighty but the others were worth a bit more.
I think the Munro's might have been a couple of hundred dollars.
The going price for the McLeay Duff Antique (about 40 years old) is about five hundred dollars.
The one that really pisses me off (cac) is the The Royal Household which is circa 1940's and the going rate for this is between a thousand and two thousand pounds (about two to four thousand dollars).


I should have drunk them.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


We like Champagne and we've drunk a fair bit of it over the years.
We have our favourites in Champagne House styles - Pol Roger, Louis Roederer, Krug - usually driven by the personal associations we have had with the brands and the owners as much as with the quality.

Her Indoors' all-time favourite is Louis Roederer. We often have a glass of this when we see it in bars and regularly have a bottle. On occasion Louis Roederer Cristal comes our way - previously when it was more affordable we would buy it and in recent years we have had it by way of gift.  Needless to say we love it.

Roederer Cristal is a very expensive champagne. Ridiculously expensive. Its cost has as much to do with its quality as much as its popularity. There was a bit of a stoush a few years ago when the head of Roederer publicly announced that he and the company were perturbed that a big percentage of sales in USA were attributable to drug dealers, hip hop artists and rappers. Jay-z got all uppity and labelled the comments as racist and called for a boycott of Roederer Cristal. This was music to our ears as if overpaid hip hop artists weren't buying it then it might come down to affordable levels. Fat chance. It still is one of the world's most expensive champagnes.

We're drinking up the cellar at the moment as we're heading off overseas for a few years. The other night we drank a bottle of 2005 Cristal.

As I mentioned earlier, we like champagne and drink a lot of it. We also appreciate very good examples of methode champenoise like Deutz. When it comes to drinking a vintage champagne or a prestige champagne the difference is phenomenal.

A good methode champenoise should usually cost about $30.
A good non vintage champagne should usually be about $80
A prestige champagne can be over a hundred.
Elite champagnes like Dom Perignon, Krug, Cristal etc start at $250 and just keep climbing.


Worth the money?
Well no but ......

.....the difference between the really top stuff and the simply good stuff is tremendous.
The Cristal 2005 was fine, absolutely fine. The bead was intense with tiny bubbles. The texture was silky with no coarse notes at all. The flavour was fruity and fresh. Delightful. On opening the fresh bread smell (yeast autolysis) was very pronounced and could be smelled from metres away.
The wine is an experience and any champagne drinkers should splurge out on wines of this calibre at least once to use as a yardstick.

I don't know when we'll try it again, maybe we could become hip hop artists and make our fortune

"C'mon y'all, get sippin', get sippin'
'dis Cristal man is for tippin', for tippin'
Break da bank, do dat pawn thang,
Do watcha gotta just get that big bang,
Drinking champagne
Yeah, do it just do it
Drinking champagne
Y'all never rue it"

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Sweet wines, once the most consumed type of wines have been falling in popularity for decades.
Sauternes, Barsacs, Sherries, Ports, sweeter German wines and their replicants around the world once made up substantial parts of winemakers' incomes. The reasons for this were many and included the fact that the sweeter wines kept better and longer, dining was longer and included desserts and dessert wines, the taxman wasn't as greedy and sweet wines can mask a myriad of winemaking faults.

Nowadays, with faster life-styles and a new calorie-consciousness, sweet wines are generally out of favour much to the consternation of traditional producers who are looking at new ways of marketing them ..... but that's another story.

Last night, in celebration of our move to Canada soon we opened a bottle of a sweet Canadian wine that I've had in the cellar for some time. The wine is Inniskillin 2002 Gold Reserve Vidal Icewine.
Inniskillin is a producer based at Niagara.

Vidal is a Canadian grape varietal. Icewine is a style of wine made from frozen (on the vine) grapes.

To be honest I was thinking that I'd left the wine in the cellar for too long as I do with most of the sweet wines we have but I was really surprised. The wine has a rich, golden colour but is still bright. The aroma is full of honey and butterscotch notes and the flavour - delicious.  It is all honey, butterscotch and tropical fruits with a hint of apricot kernel. Marvellous and a great teaser for our adventure.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

DRC - R.I.P.

Well it's dead to me anyway.

Don't get me wrong. If you offered me a glass of Domaine Romanee Conti you'd be in danger of losing your arm.

I love Burgundy and have done for many years but it's just got so expensive I can't afford to buy good ones anymore. I drink a lot of New Zealand Pinot Noir, in fact it is almost the only red wine I drink nowadays but it's not the same as the sinuous, silky and lengthy Burgundies I've drunk.

Burgundies have always been expensive. This is because it is a relatively small delimited area with some producers making only a few hundred cases of wine, not the thousands and hundreds of thousands made by producers in larger areas.

There was a point where Burgundy, while still affordable, wasn't representing good value for money. This was in the late '70's when after a few generations of intensive fertilisation and 'over-farming' the crops were too large and the soil was being stretched. This was remedied a couple of decades later but just when quality came up to match and in some cases exceed the price, disaster happened.

It wasn't the Americans this time. They'd 'discovered' Bordeaux wines in the 1980's and first pushed the price of the top wines through the roof, only later to be followed by the Chinese.

No, it was the Chinese with Hong Kong buyers playing paying monopoly money for  good Burgundy. Often it wasn't for the intrinsic quality of the wine but for its stataus and rarity.

This week there was news of Henry Tang (Hong Kong billionaire who wanted to be Hong Kong Chief Executive)'s Burgundy collection fetching over USD 6 million at auction. Now, even though a few of the lots have been under suspicion as being possible fakes, this will undoubtedly set new record prices for Burgundy in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Probably in the future the only chance I'll have of drinking or even tasting Domaine Romanee Conti again is to sell up the house and all of our possessions and spend the proceeds on DRC and other top burgundies while living rough on Queen Street.

Friday, March 15, 2013


I haven't done this for a while (lucky readers) but this evening opened a bottle of wine and put on some music that just matched perfectly so I thought I'd share it.

The wine: Selaks Winemakers Favourite Chardonnay 2011.

The music: Patti Smith Group Radio Ethiopia.

Hello.................hello....................... hello...........................

Anybody there?

OK, who cares if you are or not. I'm enjoying both.

Radio Ethiopia was a 1976 collaboration between these two:

Ivan Kral and Patti Smith

It was the follow-up album to the outstanding 1975 Horses which radically changed my choice of pop/rock music from British R&B and US West Coast to something edgier.

Smith's reading sort of matched my own with her references to poets and writers like Rimbaud, Proust  and Verlaine ( I didn't connect with the American beat poets though like Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg - I thought they were tossers).

Outstanding tracks from this album (to me) are 'Aint it strange', 'Poppies' and 'Pissing in a river'
........ which brings me to the wine ( as I've consumed half of the bottle so ...excuse me for a moment ..................

Selaks Winemakers Favourite 2011 Chardonnay:

is an edgy, well structured and thoroughly thought-out wine. It has great commercial appeal as proven by the fact that supermarkets are brave enough to stock it and promote it even though it is of high quality (they still beat the supplier down on price and promotional support though which is similar to Radio Ethiopia. Stupid critics of the time tried to pan the album as a "sell-ot to commercialism"these idiots were subsequently proven wrong).

This is a classic Hawkes Bay Chardonnay with peach and tropical fruit flavours (from both grapes and yeasts used) and that Hawkes Bay 'edginess' (sorry, I can't explain what that is - listen to Patti Smith and you'll see what I mean). The clever use of oak and retained acidity really stretches the wine out and leaves you feeling refreshed and wanting more.

Patti Smith Group's Radio Ethiopa's signature tune 'Radio Ethiopia' has been criticised as being overdone, overlong and self indulgent with a cacophony of guitars and drums. That may well be but one man's poison etc.

Selaks Winemakers Favourite 2011 Chardonnay's winemaker Brett Fullerton is certainly not overdone, overlong and self indulgent . He is one of this country's best winemakers and is quiet, unassuming and dedicated. He is one of life's heroes having experienced more than his share of tribulations but has just got on with it and rewarded us with great wines.

The connection? Both Smith and Fullerton are craftsmen and artists. You don't produce outstanding art without a proper grounding in the basics of the craft (like Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Colin McCahon or Ralph Hotere). Do the apprenticeship and results follow. For me. I look forward to Smith's new releases and, as she has matured and changed, she still delivers. I have followed Fullerton's art and craft as well and enjoy what he delivers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I heard today that Henri Krug has died. He will be missed as one of the champions of that wonderful Champagne brand Krug. With his brother Remy he nurtured and improved it to be what it is today - a statement of the best that Champagne can offer.

I was lucky enough to market Krug in New Zealand a few years back and launch a couple of Henri's line extensions, the Krug Rose and Clos de Mesnil. Needless to say I consumed enough Krug Grande Cuvee NV, Krug vintage, Krug Rose and Clos de Mesnil to last a lifetime.

I was also lucky to visit Krug cellars in Champagne and to see first hand the winemaking process. I still remember the smell of the Chardonnay undergoing barrel ferment in small oak barrels. It was raspberries. A beautiful scent of raspberries (and other fruits) that I can still recall.

I really love Krug as a Champagne -style but sadly cannot afford to buy it now. The Grande Cuvee NV is about $300 a bottle and Clos de Mesnil a whopping $1500 a bottle.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


The German wine industry came back strongly over the last 10 years following a 'perfect storm' which seriously eroded their market share around the world.

First the scandals that destroyed the Austrian wine industry (Di-ethylene glycol used to increase must-weight) had connections with some German producers.

Second European air pollution, Chernobyl fall-out and the polluted Rhine and other rivers seriously compromised quality and acceptance of German wines.

Thirdly the world moved on from Liebfraumilch and the previously powerful brands like Blue Nun, Black Tower, Deinhards Green Label took a dive. To be fair the same thing happened to hybrid and Muller Thurgau brands in New Zealand like White Cloud and the 'Rieslings' and 'Moselles' from Australia but New Zealand, Australia, USA, South Africa and other countries had switched to and successfully marketed other varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris etc) so the impact wasn't as great.

From the 90's on though, German Rieslings have come back with quality and seriousness making them not only truly great buys on quality but great buys on value (comparative to price movements of top wines from other countries. A German Riesling cannot beat the quality:value ratio of a New Zealand Riesling.)

Now Germany is producing top Pinot Noir and setting their sights to challenge France, USA and New Zealand.

"First der frogs und zen der kiwis "

In a recent comparative tasting in the UK with British trade professionals doing the tasting seven German Pinot Noirs made the top 10 (out of over 300 wines from all the serious Pinot Noir producing countries. The top 2 positions were from Oregon and the number 8 position went to New Zealand's Felton Road Block 5 2009. Now tastings like this can always be a bit dodgy and are 'on the day' depending on what wines were submitted to make the comparison but 7 out of 10 is significant.

We are warned!

Sunday, March 10, 2013


We probably all taste things the same, apart from effects of medication, injury, illness or complicating external factors but our interpretation of what we are tasting varies.

I love chardonnay. By far it is my favourite wine varietal and has been for most of my adult life. This doesn't mean that I don't drink and appreciate other varietals and wine styles - I have made my entire career in wine after all - but chardonnay is my favourite followed by pinot noir ( and that usually happens).

I love Marlborough. My father was born there to an old-established family which had owned significant chunks of the region for generations. Some of my fondest memories are of helping out on family farms during my school holidays. I love and am proud of the development of Marlborough as a wine region and feel that in my small way I have helped in this. Marlborough has done more for New Zealand as a significant wine producing country than any other region. Bar none. No argument.

But, I hate Marlborough chardonnay. This isn't a new thing, I have always disliked it as an aberration.

Chardonnay, although growing best in cool climates still needs warmer growing conditions than sauvignon blanc. Chardonnay grows best on clay or limestone soils whereas sauvignon blanc prefers stony soils. Cooler conditions and stony soils give more minerality and herbacioussness to the grapes. Both together provide a perfect storm more suited to sauvignon blanc than chardonnay. Chardonnay grown in clay or limestone in cooler conditions gives a chablis style wine. Chardonnay grown in warmer conditions on gravel or stony soils gives a lean and finely structured wine. If you have a vineyard in a cooler area with stony, gravel soils - plant sauvignon blanc.

Horses for courses

Marlborough provides plenty of sunshine, adequate heat summation, dry growing and harvesting periods and a clean and relatively disease free environment.
It also has a very dominant maritime influence and very cool night-time temperatures making frost a risk.
This happens to be ideal conditions for sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, riesling and even that godawful pinot gris but it is not ideal for chardonnay.

For me, the best New Zealand growing area for chardonnay is in the North Island. Apart from the occasional lovely Martinborough ones the most southerly region to produce excellent chardonnay is Hawkes Bay. Gisborne, further north used to tout itself as 'the chardonnay capital of New Zealand' but recent unfavourable climactic conditions and resultant corporate jitters means that much of what was once great has disappeared and resurfaced in Hawkes Bay.
Further north Auckland, a now extremely small viticultural area can produce excellent chardonnay (Kumeu and Waiheke Island) and Mangawai in Northland shows promise.

So why do I hate Marlborough chardonnay?
It is too acid.
It has a grapefruit-skin character that tends to make it bitter.
It is generally overworked as winemakers try to compensate for the inherent deficiencies with clever winemaking techniques and use of oak.

Now, Marlborough chardonnay producers, don't get upset. As I said in the beginning, tasting is personal. It could well be that when I taste Marlborough chardonnay there is something in my bodily system that reacts unfavourably to it. I do know that as I take a mild form of statin for cholesterol reduction, my doctor has advised against consuming grapefruit juice. This could in some way accentuate the grapefruit/bitter characteristics of the wine.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


There was a time, not too long ago, when buying cheaper and lesser rated Bordeaux wine, it was expected that there would be faults.

The classic 'French stink' was de rigeur and in wine tasting competitions a Merlot or Cabernet based wine could be identified as being French and not American, Australian or from New Zealand because of this.

The French used to say that it was terroir (the unique character of place, tradition and climate) that gave the wine individuality. In reality it was due to poor winery hygiene, outdated winemaking practices and the use of old and unclean equipment. Brettanymyces, high volatile acidity, bad sulphides etc. gave the characteristic stink.

Today, thanks to education, an international wine market and sharing of ideas between the 'old world' of wine and the 'new world' of wine the dirty old wines are a thing of the past, especially in Bordeaux (for anything put in a bottle with a proper label) although other 'country' French wines can still be suspect.

I was pleasantly surprised this Christmas in buying via the web a mixed case of Bordeaux wines from 2009 and 2010 vintage. The wines are clean, full-bodied and showing true varietal characteristics - some Cabernet dominant and some Merlot dominant. The flavours are outstanding for the price (about $12 a bottle) and the wines are robust enough to stand cellaring for a couple of years.

I'm a great supporter of New Zealand wines and love what's happening in Hawkes Bay and Waiheke with the 'Bordeaux varietal' wines but due to production economies of scale and a low volume market these are hellishly expensive to get a good, well-balanced wine from well-ripened grapes. Certainly there is nothing to be had at the sub-$20 level to match these French wines.

The poor old French have had a bad rap over the last few years with the growth of 'new world' wines but its nice too see that someone is taking steps to bring in some quality and good value offerings. Long may it last.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


First the rappers polluted the luxury Champagne market. Now it seems Riesling is in the gun.

Look at this rubbish. I guess the German wine market is desperate for new business.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I had to laugh reading Bill Ralston's column in the latest Listener. He relates how a neighbour dismisses Pinot Gris as 'cougar juice' for older ladies on the prowl.

Pinot Gris doesn't do it for me. It's Her Indoors favourite tipple and I enjoyed telling her of the 'older ladies on the prowl' jibe.

Years ago I did drink Pinot Gris. This was back in the days when white wine offerings from both Australia and New Zealand were a bit ordinary. Chardonnay was hardly planted, Riesling was scarce, Sauvignon Blanc hadn't been 'invented' and most whites were from hybrid or cloned varietals.

I drank some interesting Alsace Pinot Gris known as Tokay (when good Riesling or Gewurztraminer couldn't be found) and even Hungarian Pinot Gris known as Szurkeberat. I tended to steer clear of German variants known as Rulander as there was always good German Riesling to be had.

Pinot Gris is an ancient varietal first recognized in Burgundy would you believe although they had the good sense to chuck it in favour of Chardonnay years ago. It made its way North and East sponsored by that old nancy boy and fraudster Charles IV. He drank a bit (but who wouldn't if your wife's name was Blanche) and took Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to the even colder climes. Pinot Noir wasn't successful but Pinot Gris took off like a weed.

In the 1980's when we started to see some better Pinot Gris in New Zealand I used to buy Dry River's version from Martinborough. It was rich and spicy and drank and kept well. In later days I have found this too viscous and cloying and don't drink it even when offered a glass.

There is a surfeit (to me) of Pinot Gris in New Zealand, mostly bland innocuous stuff. There doesn't seem to be any consistent styles with some producers varying the alcohol and sugar levels each year (although the same could be said of Riesling).

There are some better ones emerging now that have a better acid and mineral structure sort of like a good Riesling ......... but, why not just buy and drink Riesling, New Zealand's best and most underrated white wine.

 Lean, sinuous, flinty, rich refreshing and satisfying. Better with a bit of age........ sort of like a cougar.